Last week at the office, we installed a huge white board – 12′ per 4′ huge – on our brand new green wall. Why? Because we are the Creative and Technical Unit (yes, CTU, cameo fully intended) and this board is absolutely genius to organize tasks and brainstorms. One of the things I enjoy doing is mind mapping and since it takes a bit of space, this new installation is perfect.
As I thought about the joys of mind mapping, I decided it was time to write a new Creativity Tip and share this problem-solving and idea-generating technique.
What is a Mind Map?
A mind map is, basically, a visual representation of concepts. Its heart is a core idea and, from there, keywords branch out, pushing the idea in different directions. A mind map is meant to be what its name says: a map of the writer’s mind. Consequently, it is both ordered and messy, hierarchic and not. For me, the most important thing is that it allows me to roughly organize a bunch of trails of thought around a problem/concept.
How to Create One?
First, start with a keyword in the center. Then think of one word directly linked to that core. Write it somewhere near and draw a line between them. Then think of a word linked to that new addition to your map. Write and link.
You thought of more than one word? Make two branches and write them both.
You thought of a word that is closer to the core than where you’re currently at in your branching or that feels like another trail of thought altogether? Start a new branch from the core.
The key here is to let the mind map grow organically. Don’t question yourself. Don’t overthink it. Follow your trail of thought and add it to the map as it comes.
Eventually, you’ll run dry. That means its time for phase two.
Using whatever method you feel comfortable with, organize your mind map. Circle the words that particularly jump out of the page (no matter where they are in the branches). Color code the branches. Use symbols to associate words that relate to each other despite their location on different branches.
Again, the keyword here is “organic”. Whatever intuitively feels right IS!
You’ll end up with a comprehensive and visual representation of the multitude of ideas floating around in your head. It’ll make them easier to handle, help you focus and show the sometime elusive big picture. I promise you that before long a pattern/idea/solution will emerge.
When to Use It?
Mind mapping pays off in just about any creative situation.
You can use it to generate a plot: just start with a theme, a character, a genre, whatever element you feel is important for your plot.
You can use it to pinpoint what bothers you in your current storyline: start with one or two words encompassing the problem and then branch it one way with the “theory” of that problem (i.e. a “pacing” problem links to “flat action”, “low tension”, “unclear goals”, etc.) and one way with the elements of your story. See how they connect.
You can use it to plan your editing process: start with the element you want to change and map out what it’ll impact.
The list goes on and on.
Because of its free form and organic growth, a mind map is both intuitive to create and easy to apply to a bunch of contexts. Compared to a brainstorm, it is more organized. For me, pure brainstorm is better when I want to generate a slew of ideas without knowing exactly what could be important. Mind mapping serves me when I already have some kind of direction in mind.
Have you tried mind mapping? What did you think about it?